Open Letter: Is this what you call protection?


Open Letter: For Immediate Publication



Is this what you call protection?

By John Wilkes, Chief Executive, Scottish Refugee Council


For commuters yesterday [December 22] the journey home was tough. In Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, workers finishing up for the festive break trudged through deep snow or sat in gridlocked traffic to reach the warmth of their living rooms.


But for two young men from Afghanistan and Eritrea, the thought of home was a distant one. The men had arrived at Scottish Refugee Council’s offices on Tuesday afternoon to get help in finding protection from persecution back home. Arriving in Glasgow alone and with nothing, they were hoping to claim asylum under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. The only advice we could give was to travel 400 miles to the UK Border Agency office in Croydon – the one place in the UK where they would be able to lodge their claim. This meant a five-hour wait in a draughty bus station, then an overnight bus journey to a place they had never been to, just as the country began to close down for Christmas.


One of the men wore a light jacket, the other nothing but a sweatshirt holding a carrier bag of possessions of the life he had left behind. Our staff were able to provide them with some food, a little money, a bus ticket and some warm clothing from our limited charitable funds. As traffic came to a standstill all across the city and temperatures plummeted, the only other thing our staff could do was to show these young men how to get to the bus station.


Scottish Refugee Council has repeatedly called on the UK Border Agency to allow people like these two men to begin their asylum claim in Glasgow where they can be given a safe and warm place to stay. However, earlier this year the UK Border Agency announced that any person claiming asylum from inside the UK could only do so at their Croydon office. For vulnerable, often penniless people from war-torn and dangerous countries all over the world who find themselves in Scotland, this means a 400-mile trip. Many of them will then be sent 400 miles back to Glasgow to have their asylum claim actually assessed.


In 2010, conditions for those who seek protection in our country are set to get even tougher. But nothing spells out our failings more bleakly than these two men’s situation yesterday night. Is this really the sort of sanctuary we want to give?